Opinion: Walking a tight rope – travel marketing in rather exceptional times

Travel marketing ashish dhruva

After being cooped up within walls for months on end, people are eagerly awaiting vacation and some respite from routine. Intermiles’ Ashish Dhruva shares his two cents on travel marketing in uneven times and the way forward.

Revenge Travel.

These two words have made it to the headlines of almost every newspaper in India over the last two months. These words brought hope to an industry that was caught unaware and arguably affected the most by the pandemic. These two words will help multiple travels and subsidiary SMEs stay afloat through the course of the year. But what is the driving force behind this trend? And how can we – for travel marketing – help sustain our brands in the face of uncertainty?

The need to travel is innate. Human beings have always been explorers and experimenters by nature – we need to know what lies across the horizon! This attitude has led to discovery and innovation and has pushed us to the top of the food chain. However, more than that, travel refreshes the soul. It absorbs weariness and fatigue – the two terms we have come to be extremely familiar with during the course of the pandemic. The demand is evident. The supply exists in abundance. However, the question remains – how do we bridge the two to promote safe and conscious travel?

Building Responsible Brands

Brand building is a long-term prospect and marketers have to look beyond immediate business implications while communicating. Trust is travel marketing ’s most valuable currency. Building a brand that consumers can trust, even during unprecedented times, is critical. After all, your audiences’ reality is your reality as well!

During the peak of the pandemic, we saw tourism brands like South African Tourism come forth with campaigns that stated ‘Stay home now so that we can travel later’ and ‘Sacrifice now, celebrate later. Consumers today – more than ever – take into consideration brand ethos before associating. With similar offerings and huge competition in any given space, the tone and character of a brand can be the distinguishing factor when it comes to driving conversions.

Keep It Simple, Silly (KISS)

Use the KISS principle! Coined by the US Navy in 1960, the KISS is a design principle acronym that states that the easier something is to understand and use, the more likely it is to be adopted, purchased, or engaged with. Today, with limited consumer attention and with multiple brands vying for the same mind space, brands need to communicate in a manner that is easy yet efficient. This holds true even more so in a post-pandemic age when consumers have multiple levels of protocols to follow during, pre and post-transit. With the travel policies constantly changing, we must ensure that accurate and easily consumable information is passed down to consumers in order to avoid misunderstandings and facilitate clear communication. Using imagery, keeping the number of words limited, and speaking in languages that resonate the most with your target audience definitely help.

Brands can also start tweaking their media strategies to leverage the power of audio. According to KPMG’s Media and Entertainment Report 2020, India is the third-largest consumer of podcasts (after the US and China), with 57.6 million monthly listeners! The fact that audio listening is a phone-down experience makes it popular amongst the millennial multitasking generation, especially during these times when people are working from home. It has the ability to engage audiences with differentiated content while they are working, cooking, or doing other domestic chores, walking, working out, or even when they are looking for some downtime from their screens.

Establishing consumer confidence

Along with talking to our target audience set, it is also extremely important to talk with them!

Customers today are increasingly using apps for purchases and services to avoid the hassle of traveling, waiting in queues, and risking exposure to the widespread virus. Additionally, the internet provides access to more product options and a chance to evaluate reviews before making purchase decisions. While this definitely the future, consumers are also going to seek human assurance as they journey. AI may be an easier option, however, a human voice goes a long way in establishing confidence, especially during tumultuous times. While consumer assurance can be virtual, it needs to be personal and have a human touch.

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Reading The Room

Nowadays, customer experience determines customer loyalty and retention. Right from first impressions during brand interactions and product experiences, to brand perception and value for money – customer experience at each step increases retention. Companies looking to succeed in a digitally dominated world with ever-dwindling customer loyalty need to be masters of not only acquiring new customers but also holding onto them. Customer retention is more critical than customer acquisition.

This is why we introduced InterMiles every day in June 2020 during the peak of the pandemic. With a member-first approach, we continue to focus on adding value to their ongoing experience with us and introducing engagement opportunities (including gamification!) that would be relevant to their daily lifestyle, including essential, everyday utilities as well as long-term aspirational needs.

Rolling out a Voice of Customer (VoC) program can also help brands design a structured way of listening to their customers and engaging them in conversation and feedback. Think customer surveys, dipsticks, customer service feedback, and suggestions.

This will provide real-time data and business intelligence to the marketers and is the best way to gain insights that will help craft plans in sync with the needs of the ever-evolving consumer. Marketers can use this opportunity to leverage digital tools and offer a more personalized experience to consumers.

While there are a plethora of tools at our disposal in this digital age, two of the most important ones remain timeless – common sense and sensitivity. Being armed with well-rounded thoughtful teams who think rationally and creatively, makes a world of difference.

The piece is authored by Ashish Dhruva, Senior Vice President – Marketing and Customer Engagement at InterMiles.